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Archive for the ‘Goal setting’ Category

Choices…What an interesting word. Are you aware that the average adult makes 35,000 choices in a single day? That’s right; you read that correctly…35,000. Heck, we make 226.7 choices just about the food we’re going to eat in a single day. By contrast, children make only about 3,000 choices in a day. Much of the research, particularly about the food, was done at Cornell University, which is appropriate considering they have one of the best schools of hotel management in the country.

But…once more I digress, only to be pulled back to the subject at hand; in this case, “choices.” I’m willing to bet that without half trying, you could list 1,000 choices you make in a day. Consider your clothing, your mode of transportation, your job, your career, the television you may or may not watch, and of course let us not forget about the food you choose…or not. I suppose we could add the choices you make about what to do on the computer or, if you use a smart phone…oy, let’s not get started on those choices

I’d like to consider myself as a pretty average adult. Stop laughing right now! Okay, so I’m a bit older than average. Maybe I’m a bit taller than average even with my age-diminished-height. I could also be thought of as a bit heavier than average – although I have just lost 25 pounds, with 25 more to go. But here are some of the choices I have to make first thing in the morning: Gym clothing or street clothes; water or fruit juice; a protein bar or some fruit; go to the gym or not; if not, what will we be doing today and how do I dress for it; if going to the gym, is the battery charged on my I-pod or should I charge it while I’m getting ready to go. I could go on and on and on and I haven’t even been to the gym yet! Geez, all these choices, most of which we make without even considering that we are doing so. Are you getting my drift here?

If you remember Newton’s Third Law…”For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” then you will, perhaps, understand why we make those 35,000 choices each and every day. Making a single choice influences so many other choices that they quickly add up, and the number doesn’t appear quite as large as it initially did.

Along the line we may make some choices that don’t affect us at the time but that have a huge impact on us later. My decision to smoke for 51 years of my life has now resulted in emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As a result, my choices of exercise are quite limited. On the other hand, my choice not to get involved in any criminal activities – yes, it was a choice – means that I didn’t have any kind of a record that would have prevented me from getting a security clearance or pursuing any number of professions.

Are there choices that I made that perhaps I should not have? Absolutely. Let me cite college as an example. In my undergraduate years, I never took the classroom all that seriously. That was a choice that, in hindsight, was about as dumb as I had to have been. Don’t get me wrong, I had wonderful collegiate experiences. They just weren’t in the classroom. By the time I got to graduate school I was married, had a full-time job, and truly recognized the value of higher education. To this day, however, I look back at my undergraduate days with some regret.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you for a few moments. What choices did you make today? Were they choices that affected only you or were the effects felt by others? Were the effects on others positive or negative? Did your choices affect the choices made by others? The choices you make as an individual, ie, breakfast, clothing, etcetera, these only affect you. Supposing, however, that you are the head of a small or even large organization. Every choice you make may affect the lives of hundreds or even thousands of others. The choices you make compound over a lifetime and lead to who, what, and where you are. Your choices define you, and they define how others view you. This latter may not concern you at all, but you’d be wise to consider it. Let us return to you as leader, president, CEO, or whatever title you wish to hold. Your choices now become decisions and those decisions always affect the choices and actions of others. So how do you make those decisions? Do you go with the first choice that is offered and to hell with the consequences? Do you make the choice to go with what will please the majority, even though it may have long-term negative consequences? Or do you carefully weigh what is good for the organization, the employees, the community, and a host of others that will be affected by this one decision that is made up of complex choices?

It’s at this point that you begin to think, “Damn, I never looked at my choices this way,” or words to that effect. Our simple choices that only affect us are one thing, but when your choice has a ripple effect (damn, there’s that word again), well, that’s when things become complicated. If you’re on the top rung of the ladder, the choices you make cannot be made impulsively. Every single factor must be weighed. It doesn’t become a breakfast choice or a clothing choice, or the choice of a television program to be watched. Your choice becomes your decision. Can you live with it?

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“And the Class of ’57 had its dreams.

“We all thought we’d change the world with our great works and deeds.

“We all thought the world would change to fit our needs.”

If you don’t know this classic country hit by the Statler Brothers, you’re probably not alone. They just happen to be one of my favorite country groups, and that song is one to which I can tell you every word. While not from high school, I was from the collegiate Class of ’57…and quite frankly, I’m not certain that many of us knew exactly what awaited us when we walked across the stage to receive our degrees It should be noted that we were not a small class that packed the old Boston Garden that Father’s Day Sunday in June. What I do remember about the Garden on that day was that any resemblance to a garden was a joke. You see, about a week before our ceremony, the circus had been in town. If you think it’s easy to get rid of the smells related to a circus, dream on my friend. Between the odors of panther and tiger urine and whatever it is that elephants dispense, the area where we congregated provided a truly gaggable moment. Add to that, temperatures in the 80’s, and a spot designed to accommodate 1,000, crammed with over 1,500, and you have some idea of how the Class of ’57 began its commencement ceremony.

Did we all go on to achieve our dreams of success and glory? I guess that depends on what you call “success and glory.” Some of us went on to die in the jungles of Vietnam, thousands of miles from home, wondering what the hell happened to our plans to marry Betty Sue, have kids, and become the greatest engineer of all times or something like that. More of us passed the CPA exam and went on to work for big accounting firms, stayed with them for 30 – 40 years, and retired with the gold watch, three grandkids, a wife with an alcohol problem, and a waist twice the size of that of which we had on graduation day. A few of us didn’t even bother to finish the curricula we began, but dropped out and went on to achieve great success in our chosen field of endeavor. The stories are endless as are the degrees of glory and success.

It’s true of all classes, at whatever level you may wish to discuss…other than kindergarten, elementary, middle school, or whatever. Some teachers could actually tell you who they suspect will go on to achieve ‘success.’ Even some guidance counselors believe they can predict who will achieve something of note and who will be prone to sticking a gun in ‘its’ mouth. At the very least, we have finally come around to admitting that we can be wrong a great deal of the time.

I look back at people who achieved success only to see it vanish before their very eyes. Take Donald Burr, the founder of People Express Airlines. The airline began in 1980 when Burr and a few executives from Texas International Airlines form a carrier that would be based in Newark, New Jersey and that would service between New Jersey and New York and several other northeast states. Cheap rates, no frills, and a non-union work force allowed the airline to successfully enter the market. When deregulation came along, People’s went under and eventually went out of business. Don Burr, in speaking to a small audience of students, faculty, and community members at Babson College, called himself a “failure.” He was called out for that remark by an anonymous woman in the room. “If you were a failure, then every one of us who worked for you was a failure,” she said, “and I don’t consider myself to be a failure.” The room erupted with applause. It was apparent that Burr was deeply moved by her comment. Did he succeed or did he fail? The airline ran beautifully for nearly seven years. It was only by a change in regulations and bigger fish entering the market hard and fast that caused Burr’s line to shut down.

So what does success really mean? If it is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose,” the Burr, along with many other individuals and ideas are successful.  If we consider success as the attainment of popularity, glory, or profit, there are many out there who meet the criteria. But, what about that accountant who graduated from college, passed the CPA exam and worked for the same company for 30 or 40 years? Was he a success? Sure he was if he accomplished what was his goal. To me, this is why success is such a bitch to define. Nolan Bushnell used to say that unless you had made and lost your first million dollars by the time you were 30, you were a failure. I don’t subscribe to that dictum. Success is how you measure it, not how anyone else sees you. To me, success is also the pride you take in doing a job and doing it well for as long as you feel good about doing it. Too many people equate success with the almighty dollar or their name up in lights. Success is also being blessed with having healthy children to raise; you and another have created life. What greater success could one ever achieve?

So, the next time, you’re tempted to look at what your old classmates are doing or have done, think long and hard about how you evaluate each one if that is your wont to do. You can probably sit back and say to yourself, “Wow, we really were a successful group of people, and we did some pretty damned good things.

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When you work your ass off for over 50 years; when you pay union dues…for which you get absolutely nothing; when you contribute to Social Security – I got a raise this year that amounts to thirty-five cents a day – and when you contribute to a pension fund where the foundation president makes over half a million dollars a year, you hope that just maybe, just a tiny wee bit of maybe, that fixed income on which you’re going to retire will be all it takes to get by until they plant you or scatter your ashes somewhere pleasant. If you happen to have saved a few bucks along the way or invested your income wisely, so much the better. I took advice from a broker [former] friend of mine and was taken for a little bit of a bumpy ride, and since that didn’t work out so well the first time, there was no second. It’s rather like the old expression, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

The thing that I have learned is that anyone who attempts to retire solely on Social Security may as well just shoot themselves and be done with it.  Now hold on there, just a minute; I’m not saying that Social Security isn’t worth the powder to blow it to hell. The principles of Social Security are quite grand indeed. They stem from the English ‘Poor Laws.” In England, as economic security began to depend more and more upon the crown rather than upon guilds and “friendly societies” such as the “Freemasons (which came to America in 1730); the Odd Fellows (1819); Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (1868); Loyal Order of Moose (1888); and the Fraternal Order of Eagles (1898)” relinquished some of their efforts to aid those less fortunate than their organizations.

According to the history of Social Security, “When the English-speaking colonists arrived in the New World they brought with them the ideas and customs they knew in England, including the “Poor Laws.” The first colonial poor laws were fashioned after those of the Poor Law of 1601. They featured local taxation to support the destitute; they discriminated between the “worthy” and the “unworthy” poor; and all relief was a local responsibility. No public institutions for the poor or standardized eligibility criteria would exist for nearly a century. It was up to local town elders to decide who was worthy of support and how that support would be provided.

“As colonial America grew more complex, diverse and mobile, the localized systems of poor relief were strained. The result was some limited movement to state financing and the creation of almshouses and poorhouses to “contain” the problem. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries most poverty relief was provided in the almshouses and poorhouses. Relief was made as unpleasant as possible in order to “discourage” dependency. Those receiving relief could lose their personal property, the right to vote, the right to move, and in some cases were required to wear a large “P” on their clothing to announce their status.

“Support outside the institutions was called “outdoor relief” and was looked upon with distrust by most citizens. It was felt that “outdoor relief” made things too easy on the poor who should be discouraged from the habit of poverty in every way possible. Nevertheless, since it was expensive to build and operate the poorhouses, and since it was relatively easy to dispense cash or in-kind support, some outdoor relief did emerge. Even so, prevailing American attitudes toward poverty relief were always skeptical and the role of government was kept to the minimum. So much so that by as late as 1915 at most only 25% of the money spent on outdoor relief was from public funds.”

Two months before I was born, in June of 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in recognition of my mother’s impending birth of a new star in the firmament – did you ever hear such drivel in your life? – informed Congress that he was going to create a Social Security program. Its two major components would be “Title I- Grants to States for Old-Age Assistance, which supported state welfare programs for the aged, and Title II-Federal Old-Age Benefits. It was Title II that was the new social insurance program we now think of as Social Security. In the original Act benefits were to be paid only to the primary worker when he/she retired at age 65. Benefits were to be based on payroll tax contributions that the worker made during his/her working life. Taxes would first be collected in 1937 and monthly benefits would begin in 1942,” which eventually began in 1940.

As our society has advanced, Social Security has found it difficult to keep pace. While, as I have said, the intent of the program was terrific, it never quite achieved what its originators hoped to accomplish, and pension plans became part of retirees’ hopes and dreams.

The problem that many retirees face today is that while their income is more or less fixed, the cost of living is increasing at a more rapid rate. For example, it costs me approximately one thousand dollars more per year for groceries than it did in 2011. Health insurance has increased at almost the same rate during the same period. Real estate taxes have increased by nearly three thousand dollars. At the same time, Social Security and pension benefits have increased by $200. For many of us, aging also means an increase in the number of prescription drugs we are required to take. Certainly, Medicaid or a health insurance program covers much of the cost, however, I recently paid nearly $350 for one drug, and that is not noted as a particularly expensive medication.

Am I advocating more help from the government? No, that would be farcical at best and a tragedy at worst. No, I’m not advocating anything other than to warn those who are in their forties and fifties to plan, if you haven’t already, for a retirement that will be far more expensive than any of which you can conceive. I don’t have any sound financial advice for you other than that. Poo-poo my advice at your peril, and if you think you can keep up with the Joneses, remember, the Joneses are in debt!

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It’s already started for some. “One more term; one more semester; one more quarter…and I’m outta here! No more term papers; no more eight o’clock classes; no more listening to Mr. So—and-so’s boring astronomy lectures…my liberal arts requirement, but what a bitch!”

There are any number of college seniors who cannot think farther ahead than graduating and getting their degree. They seem to forget several things, among them…no more summer vacations; no more Christmas/Holiday breaks that last over a month; no more spring breaks wherever the ‘spring breakers’ are breaking this year; no more sleeping in if you don’t feel like going to that eight o’clock. All of these are gone, out-the-window, fini, kaput, nada, nyet, no mo.

If they haven’t signed up for interviews, they soon will. Companies and organizations will come to campus, conduct interviews, have a hard time not laughing at some of the idiots who believe they’re qualified to start off as a vice president and move on from there or perhaps they just shake their collective heads about how pathetically prepared the interviewee is to face the real world.

The good ones will get an offer or two; those who aren’t prepared will wonder why “he/she got an offer and she/he didn’t.” These people will congratulate their classmates but inside, way down deep in their gut, they get mad; then they begin to question themselves. “What did he have that I didn’t?” “I’m as good as she is so how come she got the offer.” With many, something will come along quickly to distract their thinking, which is, of course, part of the problem.

Then comes senior week or however long it might be. Most know they’ve made it. Some are sweating out a course or two, talking to the faculty member about the final exam…this, by the way, is when faculty members go into hiding [ not really, but it makes for a better story]. If grades are posted, there are cheers and dejection; laughter and silently drooping heads, hoping the course will be a summer offering so they can make it up and graduate…after their friends are gone.

Then comes the day when they put on the cap and gown. Some will adorn the cap with tape or white pain with messages like “THANX MOM + DAD,” or sometimes just one or the other.  Hell, the cap is only twelve inches square with a button in the middle, so there’s not room for much of a message. They’ll march in the academic procession to the tune of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and they’ll be looking around, trying to find their folks. Of course, if they are graduating from a humongous institution, they won’t even try to find their parents or grandparents. Depending on the school from which they receive their degree, they may wear a different colored tassel…blue for education; white for the liberal arts; orange for engineering, etc. If the school from which they receive their degree is smaller, the tassels on their caps might mean something else. Often, they will stand for level of honors received…red for cum laude; white for magna cum laude, and gold for summa cum laude, the highest of the three Latin honors.

Generally, there is a senior speaker or two. It will be midway through the first of these — often the valedictorian or person with the highest grade point average – that the light suddenly dawns on those wearing the black tassels, i.e., no honors, no job prospects, and a lot of OMG’s. The smile that was on their collective faces as they walked in the procession disappears. Their thoughts run along these lines: “I’m not going to have the summer off. I have to find a job. I’m not coming back here next year. Mom and Dad spent all that money. And finally, Holy shit, what do I do now?”

After working in higher education for over 40 years; after having planned and conducted over 50 graduation ceremonies, I’ve seen all of the things that I’ve mentioned actually happen. Graduation should be a time of great joy. For better than two-thirds of the graduates and their families, it is a time of great rejoicing. It’s that other third that sticks with me. All that money wasted; all that time…wasted; four or more years of your life…just shot to hell.

Will the third make it in the world? Heck, some of them will go on to be highly successful, maybe more successful than that valedictorian. Maybe the wake-up-hammer will hit them over the head while sitting in their chair at graduation. Maybe it won’t hit them for a year or two. Then again, maybe they will never be inspired to get off their collective butts and do something to pay back that two hundred thousand or more dollars.

College is not for everyone. College is not a place you go because ‘everybody’s doing it.’ College is not some four-year vacation or grades 13 through whatever. College is where you go when you have selected a field of study that you truly believe is what you want to do for the rest of your life. College is like a four-year trial marriage because you will be doing something for the next 40 or more years. Even so, the chances are unusually high that the final job of your working life may not be what you trained for in college. In today’s working world, the average college graduate  will change ‘careers’ anywhere from six to ten times…perhaps more. There’s nothing wrong with this. If you go to a college or university and your choice of career calls for advanced degrees, you’ll probably stick with that career. If what you view yourself doing for the rest of your life can manage with a baccalaureate degree, you’ll probably be a career-changer.

The most important point that I wish to make is that you not make foolish choices. Don’t go to college just to go to college or because that’s what your friends are doing. What fields are out there that really fascinate you? What will the future hold in terms of jobs that are far from the minds of others, but that you think might be required? Make your mind work for you before make a college or university choice.

Just THINK!

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What if I elect to drink and smoke, eat fatty foods that taste good, and probably die at 50? So what if I don’t give a damn and think that you’re a fool for eating healthy, going to the gym each day and don’t think I’m particularly bright? Which one of us is correct in our thinking? The answer is that we both are. It may sound rather insane but at the very least, we must consider that we are following our own paths and not allowing others to influence our thinking…or are we?

It seems to me that there comes a point in time when we are so besieged with messages of how bad smoking is; how bad obesity is; how much we should be following federal dictates about what to eat and what not to drink, etc., that a form of rebellion may set in. If I want my mother to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my school lunch, why should I be forced to eat somewhere isolated like a leper? Let the kid with the peanut allergy eat elsewhere; there are more of me than there are of him or her, right? You’ve forced me to have a smoke outside the building where I  work; you won’t allow me to smoke in bars, restaurants, on beaches or in city-owned parks, and now you’re trying to tell me what I can and cannot do inside my own car? When you take over the car payments, then you can tell me what to do. I’ve gotten along just fine without health insurance for 40 years [actual case] and now you plan to fine me if I don’t buy health insurance from a government that cannot even allow me access  because its site shuts down regularly…like, I’m supposed to believe that’s going to solve my problems; are you nuts?

About 43 million people or 19 percent of adults over the age of 18 smoke tobacco. That’s a significant minority to me. Right now, 27.1 percent of Americans are obese. Depending on how you look at figures, that’s also a whale of a lot of people – pun intended. And would you believe that 15 percent of Americans are considered to be alcoholics. Holy, moly Batman!

Time out; time out…what does all of this actually mean? Well, first of all, it means that we sure know how to keep statistics. Remember, “figures don’t lie…but liars sure can figure.” It also means that we haven’t made cigarettes so prohibitively expensive that people who are addicted will have to turn to something else or quit altogether. In addition, since the tobacco lobby in Washington is allowed to continue to flourish, we all know that cigarettes, while costing an arm and a leg, will continue to be smoked in the closet or out. You can’t pass a prohibition law on smoking in the US. We saw what happened when that was tried with alcohol, so don’t even bother thinking about it.  Of course, what could be done is to pass a law stating that anyone who contracts lung cancer from smoking can be refused medical treatment for the disease. If you want people to stop smoking – and from first-hand experience, I can tell you that it is a horrible addiction – make the consequences so frightening that fewer and fewer will be tempted. Unfortunately, there will still be those who have the “it won’t happen to me attitude,” and will smoke anyway.

There is a myth that all obese people are only those in low-income groups. While this holds true for women and children, for some reason, it doesn’t hold true for low-income men. If you attempt to interpret what is said in some of the studies that have been released, you come away with nothing. My conclusion is that people are obese for two reasons: (a) they eat what they can afford, and; (b) they don’t care. There are also studies, most of which are controversial, that intelligence also plays a role in obesity, i.e., that those with a lower I.Q. are more likely to become obese in their middle years. What can be done? Well, one of the things that we have learned as we have ‘matured’ as a nation is that education about social issues rarely works. It appears to have failed on a variety of social issues, eg, smoking, and even on legal issues…buckle up; it’s the law…yeah, right! Okay, so what can we do? What I’d like to see is food manufacturers take a greater role in reducing the ingredients in their products that cause obesity. I’d like to see teachers able to express their true feelings and be able to say, “Your kid is fat and so are you; bring him back when you’ve both lost a hundred pounds!” I just don’t see that as a feasible alternative.  School cafeterias have revamped their menus; restaurants are noting healthy choices for their customers who are serious about keeping off the pounds. Unfortunately, if people wish to eat unhealthy foods, they’re going to do so. At one time, the military had an interesting way of ensuring fitness. During basic training, soldiers were required to pass a fitness test. It combined strength, fitness, and stamina. If you failed the first test, you might find yourself in a special group that ran a bit more, did more sit-ups and push-ups, and ate apart from others in the dining area. Fail the second time, and you were worked harder. If you failed the third time, you had to repeat basic training.  Yes, those were harsh measures, but if we’re so concerned about obesity in America, why not require that a physical fitness test also be passed before a high school diploma is received? Some would argue that physical fitness has no place in an educational environment. I happen to be among those who believe that physical fitness and mental alertness go hand in hand. While one is being taught to maintain a healthy body, they can also be taught how to bring those lessons into their home life. Earlier, I spoke of buckling up when you’re in your car. As a family, we never did it, at least not until our youngest was taking driver’s education. It was at her urging or noodging – depending on how one looks at it – that we began to buckle our seatbelts religiously…and that was before it was the law. The children really can become the teachers if we do it properly.

Well, we’ve covered tobacco usage, and obesity; what about this thing called ‘alcoholism’ or ‘problem drinking.’ Long before Joan was even diagnosed with cancer, we had stopped drinking. The stated reason was that we had lost the taste; the real reason was that we both felt we were on the border of becoming alcoholics, and it was getting too damned expensive. Do I drink today? Sure, if I want a drink, I’ll have one, but it’s usually overpowered by something that takes away the alcohol taste.  Since her passing, I have had a single drink the first time I’ve been back to any restaurant we ever frequented. I’ll offer a toast to her and, just as often, not even finish the drink. For some reason, people who drink to excess don’t bother me as much as they might.  I’ve worked with people who were functioning alcoholics. I’ve even told one or two that I knew what they were and that I never wanted them to come to work drunk. They get pissed at first, but that’s okay, they get over it. Thankfully, no one ever accused me of any kind of harassment, so I guess things worked out for the best.

WOW…we’ve covered a lot of ground here. Please don’t get the idea that I have the real solutions to these problems; I don’t. Far wiser heads than mine are looking at these problems daily and if they have yet to reach any solid solutions, who am I to believe that I can? Smoking? Yeah, it’s a problem because it can kill, not only the user, but those around the user. It killed my wife; it’s damaged my lungs; it’s a terrible, terrible addiction and anyone who allows themselves to become addicted is a fool. Obesity is another question; why wasn’t it a problem when I was growing up? Do we have too many food choices today that are bad? Are we disinclined to take physical fitness seriously? Anyone I have ever known who works out on a regular basis says that they hate working out but that they love the feeling they get from exercise.  I have belonged to three gyms since 1994. Each has had its own personality, but each also has had its own commonality and that commonality is the way people speak about how they feel after their workout.

As we begin another year, forget the resolutions, just do something right…for you and for others.

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People seem to talk a great deal about ‘role models.’ The dictionary defines role models as, “A person looked to by others as an example to be imitated.” That really sets some pretty wide parameters. Many people might say, “I want to be like my Dad,” or “My Mom is a person I’d like to emulate.”  It seems to me that when you’re talking about a mother or father, it depends a great deal on the age of the son or daughter when they are ask. Remember Mark Twain’s comment: “When I was 14, my father was so dumb, I could hardly stand to have him around. When I was 21, it was amazing how much the old man had learned in those seven years!”As parents, we have chinks in our armor. If you spot them when you are young, you look on us as Twain did; if you come across those faults later in your life, you will understand to a greater extent why they exist.

I wonder if there are any kids in South Boston or elsewhere who would cite James ‘Whitey’ Bulger as a role model? If we decide that a person possesses those qualities to which we would like to aspire, I’m not certain Whitey would rate particularly high on my dance card. It seems to me that you really can’t have role models until you decide what a role model should mean to you; until you have set some goals of your own. If you compare Bulger to his brother Bill, you might wonder how two people can be so different and follow such different paths to whatever you wish to call success. Bill holds a juris doctor degree from Boston College and was President of the Massachusetts Senate as well as President of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. How does one compare the two as role models.

A recent study by Dr. Crystal Hoyt at the University of Richmond determined that “high-level” female leaders may often have a detrimental effect on the leadership aspirations of the participants and may, in fact, be poor role models for females. High-level leaders might be considered as Oprah Winfrey, Connie Chung, Katie Couric, Marissa Mayer, Ellen Gordon, and others whom the participants actually found somewhat intimidating and inhibiting on self- perceptions which in turn “…adversely affected their leadership aspirations. The Hoyt study proved, using empirical data that it’s not always the top dog who one should be attempting to emulate or who should be used as a role model.

In 1978, Babson College in Wellesley, MA inaugurated its curriculum in entrepreneurial studies. Since its “startup,” the Babson program has been ranked #1 consistently by various reporting agencies such as US News & World Report and others. As part of the launch, Babson created The Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs, a day-long program that brought to campus highly successful entrepreneurs to speak to students and others, first in a general session where each entrepreneur told his or her success story and later in small-group question & answer sessions. The first five people to be inducted into the Academy were Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Industries, Soichiro Honda, founder of Honda Motor Company Ltd., Ray Kroc, founder of MacDonald’s, Royal Little, founder of Textron, and Kenneth Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation…not a bad lineup by anyone’s calculations. My question at that inaugural celebration and one that puzzled me until my retirement in 1998 was simply this: How can college students compare themselves and what they wish to achieve with the likes of the entrepreneurs they are exposed to at these programs? Do they believe that they can and will be the next Fred Smith of Federal Express, or Diane von Furstenburg of DVF? Are these the role models that students should be looking at?

I have come to the conclusion and Dr. Hoyt’s study pretty well confirms my own hypothesis that using these ‘top guns’ is a good way to set the students up for failure rather than success. While there’s no question that Berry Gordy began his career as a prizefighter –he even called himself ‘canvasback’ or that Kroc was a milkshake mixer salesman; ideas like theirs don’t come along every day.

So who should become the role models for eager young collegians anxious to make their mark on society? Here comes the answer you’re not looking for, but it’s the best with which I can come up: “It depends.” Oh stop groaning. If you aspire to be the next Steve Jobs, Dean Kamen, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Christine Legarde, or Indra Nooyi, and hold them up as your role models, you damn well better have the intelligence, the work ethic, and the willingness to short-change yourself in other areas of life in order to reach your goals. Those people did not get where they are by starting at the age of 25. Their sacrifices are varied and begun at a much younger age. These folks were driven to achieve. Only a very small percentage of any population has that drive and determination. Therefore, while you might aspire to emulate them, be honest and ask yourself if you really have what it takes?

It’s time to get personal.  I admired my parents. Dad’s family lost their rather successful business in the Crash of ’29. This was followed by the Great Depression, but he and Mom worked their way through it, raising two kids during that time. I admired his guts and determination, but I’m not certain I wanted to be like him. My first real boss was the manager of the A & P where I went to work at 16. His name was Simon Sheehan and to this day, he remains my first role model. Sy taught me how to work. “If I can’t teach you how to work in the next two weeks, you’re gone,” he told me one Saturday evening after the store had closed. He added that I was an embarrassment to my family – whom he knew quite well – and a shame to myself. He reamed me for a good half hour, but after that I learned how to work. Sy was my first role model. The second is a college president for whom I worked. His name was Asa Smallidge Knowles. Dr. Knowles, like Sy, was a task master and a perfectionist. His gift to me was his ability to string words together to make a complete sentence. He once threw a manuscript back in my face and told me it was crap…he did later apologize and told me I could do better.  Are you now thinking, “Boy, this guy is a masochist; he has role models who dump on him.” The truth is that I was a ‘life-coaster.’ I needed a good kick in the butt until I was about 30. These people certainly provided the kick, but it did wake me from my lethargy. My third role model was also a college president. However, in his previous career, he had risen to the position of Vice Chairman of Xerox. Bill Glavin taught me a great deal about managing people and about how to work smarter, not harder. Where Sy had been a tyrant; Dr. Knowles a dictator; Bill ran a democracy with the skill of Merlin. I value him as a friend as well as a wonderful role model.

Now it’s up to you. Do you have what it takes to rank in the top 100 leaders according to Forbes Magazine? Do you want, truly want to be recognized in that way? Or, perhaps, you just want to make whatever contributions you can to the community you serve? Who do you truly, in your heart of hearts, want to emulate. Remember, in addition to making a living, you also want to make a life.

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What can we say about the 113th Congress? Well, it’s young; that’s for darn sure. It’s inexperienced; when you have two freshmen holding seats on the House Appropriations Committee, you know there’s trouble from the git-go. In addition another freshman is chairing one of the Homeland Security subcommittees.

Initially, it seems that the first big debate for the new administration – pardon me; old administration in a new guise – will be the battle over the debt ceiling. How do we reduce our multi-trillion dollar deficit or do we raise the ceiling so we can spend more? Oh, wait a minute, we also have to discuss the matter of taxes and get that resolved in the next three months. How these two items can take the next four years is impossible to foresee, but I imagine that the Republican House of Representatives already has a plan in place that will stall progress for months and months to come.

It was nice of the Obama’s to cut the number of inaugural balls to two this time instead of the ten that were held as part of the last inaugural celebration. This time there was no limit to what corporate donors could give. Maybe we could use part of that to lower the budget deficit. Probably not because it was ‘earmarked’ – if there ever was a word to be hated, it’s ‘earmarked – for the celebration.

This Congress, this new group of inexperienced men and women, should not turn to their older colleagues for knowledge. The older members of Congress are too set in their ways. They are the most polarized group of politicians we have seen in decades, and that’s too bad. Corruption by continuation is no way for this country to reach new heights. The concept of proposing a bill meant to benefit the vast majority of Americans must not be allowed to become a contentious piece of legislation because some fool decided to attach a piece of pork that just might kill the bill in the final analysis. Perhaps there will be some young Republican Senator or Congressman/woman who will reach across the aisle and work closely with colleagues from the other party – and the opposite can be true – to outlaw earmarks and riders on legislation. It won’t be easy; it might mean his or her death knell, but this has to be done. It has to become part of the legislative process. We cannot allow this foolishness to continue. If we do, then we, the people of the United States of America, will finally begin to realize that the members of our legislative branch are for sale to the highest bidder. That, my friends, is not democracy. It is not the manner in which our form of government should be allowed to operate.

The President might want to let us, his loyal electors, know what his priorities are for the second term, not in the banal terms that he seems to toss around willy-nilly, but in real-life-honest-to-God words that the average American can understand. Don’t throw talking points at me, Mr. President; give me a real plan, day-by-day, if necessary and tell me what the hell you’re going to do for me, the guy who threw a few bucks into your campaign…more out of fear of what Herr Mitt might do rather than what you might don’t. As I listened to your Inaugural Address, I was completely unimpressed by its banality. I heard “gay rights, civil rights, and gun control.” It was the largest wagon-load of horse manure that Washington has seen since the mid-1800s.  Unfortunately, I can almost hear your yes men and women telling you how great it was. I’m sorry, sir, but it most assuredly did not carry the day.

Sorry – once more I digress. We’re all aware that, following the horror at Newtown, CT, the issue of gun control will once again be on the agenda. I’ve said before, but I must reiterate, this is a useless topic for Congress and the President to debate. No one is planning a rewrite of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and we are not going to ban gun sales in the United States. As a consequence, that must go to the bottom of the barrel in terms of what can be done to accomplish tasks about which we might stand some chance of getting done.

It is important to remember that Congressional delegates will see about 10,000 bills and resolutions during their two-year tenure. Of that group only about 400 will actually become law. One of the greatest problems in consideration of all of these bills and resolutions is that they are written in “Congressionalese.” Let me give you just one example:  H.R. 307, entitled the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 is 97 pages in length. Its purpose is to “…reauthorize certain programs under the Public Health Service Act and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act with respect to public health security and all-hazards preparedness and response, and for other purposes.” Oops, what are those other purposes?  Since the bill was written by Representative Mike Rogers of Mississippi’s Eighth Congressional District, does it also contain an earmark for one of the Congressman’s pet projects or does it not. As a Congressman, I suppose I should assume that since it’s a reauthorization, all is well. I’ll just have a staffer review it. But the freaking thing is 97 pages to reauthorize something that already exists. And that’s a short bill!

When he was at Harvard, Henry Kissinger gave an aide a 10-page monograph and asked for a summary. The aide returned with a 5-page summary. “Summarize it,” said Kissinger. The story goes that the aide damned near went crazy because of the number of times Kissinger sent it back. Finally, the 10-page monograph became a two-sentence summary that Kissinger read. It seems to me that there are probably too many 100+ page pieces of legislation that could be condensed by more than half and still cover all of the legalese bullcrap that so many bills contain.

And so, members of the 113th Congress, here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Don’t just shake hands across the aisle once and then retreat to your trenches.
  • If you have a piece of legislation on your mind, seek the advice of many…from both sides. Open your mind to the fact that while he or she may be from the opposite party, they may also have some good ideas to improve your work.
  • Make your personal agenda brief. What do your constituents want that will best serve the largest group of Americans? If you’re in the House, it may be good for the District, but is it really important enough at this stage when, perhaps, larger issues are stake?
  • Listen. Most of us have a plague that blocks our ears to the thoughts of others. Remember the old expression, “My mind’s made up; don’t try to convince me with facts!” It’s true, particularly in the halls of congress…sad, but true.
  • Ask the second, third, and fourth questions when you are approached with a new piece of legislation. Too many of you stop after asking the most simplistic question of all: “What’s in it for me?”
  • Most important of all…remember how short of a period of time your tenure actually is. Make the most of it…for America; for your constituents; for you. Let’s get it on, folks.

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